STATUS OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES (PWDS)
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- The Union government was recently pulled up by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment for failing to accurately estimate the current population of Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) in the country.
Disability in India
- There are 26.8 million people with disabilities in India according to the 2011 census of India.
- According to the 2011 census, 3% of people with disabilities in India have movement disabilities, 18.9% have hearing impairments, and 18.8% have visual impairments.
- The 2011 census additionally collected data on mental disability for the first time and found that 6% of Indians with disabilities fall into that category.
- Disability rights activists and academicians working on disability issues, however, say that these numbers in the census are a very small percentage of the actual numbers.
- World Bank data on the total number of persons with disabilities in India suggests the number is between 40 and 80 million.
- It is clear that persons with disabilities constitute a significant part of the Indian population and India has one of the highest numbers of people with disabilities globally.
- Despite constituting such a significant proportion of the total population, persons with disabilities live a very challenging life. Their ‘disability’ is often seen as their ‘inability’ by many and people in general have preconceived notions about their capabilities. There have been many cases where employers have denied a job to a candidate with a disability, citing the usual ‘not found suitable’.
- The main problem lies in the psyche of a significant mass that considers persons with disabilities a liability, and this leads to discrimination and harassment against them and their isolation from the mainstream.
- While writing the foreword to the World Report on Disability 2011, Professor Stephen Hawking rightly stated:
Disability need not be an obstacle to success. We have a moral duty to remove the barriers to participation, and to invest sufficient funding and expertise to unlock the vast potential of people with disabilities. Governments throughout the world can no longer overlook the hundreds of millions of people with disabilities who are denied access to health, rehabilitation, support, education and employment, and never get the chance to shine.
- India still lags behind in a big way when it comes to removing infrastructural, institutional and attitudinal barriers for persons with disabilities. Even now, most buildings in India are not disability-friendly, despite the government of India, under the Accessible India Campaign, instructing all ministries to make their buildings accessible to persons with disabilities.
- It is a welcome step but it will take a lot of time for a culture to be developed in India, where the needs of the population with disabilities are kept in mind while building any infrastructure. Historically, people with disabilities as a community have been targeted and discriminated against across the world. In fact, if one looks carefully, the population with disabilities constitutes the world’s largest ‘unrecognized minority’ group.
Who is a person with Disability?
- The most important element in the discourse on disability is to assess who is a person with disability.
- Disability is not a homogeneous concept, as it varies from person to person. Seen through a microscopic lens, one person will always be more or less disabled than the other, in terms of their relative physical capabilities.
- The Social Statistics Division under the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India, came up with a report titled Disabled Persons in India: A statistical profile 2016. While defining disability, the report states:
From the conceptual point of view, there is no universal definition of what constitutes a disability or of who should be considered as having a disability. Moreover, there is no one static condition of disability. A disability is a result of the interaction between a person with a health condition and a particular environmental context.
- The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities defines disability differently. It says:
Disability results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others. Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.
The World Report on Disability 2011 sums up the various definitions of disability by stating that:
“Disability is complex, dynamic, multidimensional, and contested”.
- India is a party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, having signed the treaty on 30 March 2007 and ratified it on 1 October 2007.
Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunity, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act in 1995
- India enacted the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunity, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act in 1995 to provide recognition to the rights and special needs of disabled people in the country.
Reservations for persons with disabilities
- It also provided for reservations for persons with disabilities in government jobs and higher educational institutions.
- While the 1995 legislation had reserved 3% of government jobs, the new legislation reserves 4%. Under the new legislation, all institutions of higher education run or funded by the government must reserve 5% of their spaces for enrolment for people with disabilities
Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016
- The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 replaced the earlier legislation and increased the number of recognised disabilities from seven to 21.
Mental Health Care Act, 2017
- The rights of persons with psychosocial disabilities are protected under the Mental Health Care Act, 2017.
Rehabilitation Council of India
- The Rehabilitation Council of India Act, 1992 created the Rehabilitation Council of India, which is tasked with training rehabilitation professionals and promoting research in rehabilitation and special education.
National Trust Act
- Another law governing disability affairs in India is the National Trust for the Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities Act, 1999, or simply the National Trust Act.
- This law created the National Trust, which is a government body that works with volunteer networks and Disabled People's Organizations and also forms local-level committees that appoint legal guardians for people with disabilities deemed to need them.
Scheme for implementation of Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 (SIPDA)
- Under this scheme, assistance is provided to the State Governments, Institutions, and Organizations under Central or State Governments for various activities relating to the implementation of Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995, particularly for creating barrier-free environments supporting District Disability Rehabilitation Centres, Composite Regional Centres, etc.
Schemes of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment
- The Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment operates various schemes for the empowerment and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities (PWDs). The schemes aim to promote physical, psychological, social, educational and economic rehabilitation and development of persons with disabilities to enhance their quality of life and also enable them to lead a life with dignity.
- The major schemes for the rehabilitation of persons with disabilities are:
- Scheme of Assistance to Disabled Persons for Purchase/Fitting of Aids/Appliances (ADIP) - aims at physical rehabilitation of persons with disabilities through the provision of assistive aids and appliances.
- Deendayal Disabled Rehabilitation Scheme (DDRS)- an umbrella scheme that addresses all aspects of rehabilitation and includes projects covering various services ranging from programs for preschool and early intervention to rehabilitation of leprosy-cured persons.
- Scheme for Implementation of Persons with Disabilities Act- under the scheme funds are provided for projects to make public buildings barrier-free, support to the institutions at the regional and district level providing services to persons with disabilities, and the creation of awareness on related issues.
- Scheme of Incentives to Employers in the Private Sector for Providing Employment to Persons with Disabilities.
- Accessible India Campaign (Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan): The Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD), Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment has conceptualized the “Accessible India Campaign (Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan)” as a nation-wide flagship campaign for achieving universal accessibility that will enable persons with disabilities to gain access for equal opportunity and live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life in an inclusive society. The campaign targets at enhancing the accessibility of built environment, transport system and Information & communication eco-system.
- Composite Regional Centre for Persons with Disabilities: The Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment has set up Composite Regional Centre for Persons with Disabilities in various states to provide both preventive and promotional aspects of rehabilitation like education, health, employment, and vocational training, research and manpower development, rehabilitation for persons with disabilities, etc.
- Deendayal Disabled Rehabilitation Scheme (DDRS): The objectives of the scheme are: To create an enabling environment to ensure equal opportunities, equity, social justice, and empowerment of persons with disabilities and; To encourage voluntary action for ensuring effective implementation of the People with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities and Protection of Rights) Act of 1995.
- National Handicapped Finance and Development Corporation (NHFDC) is an Apex corporation under the aegis of the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (Divyangjan), Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment and is working since 1997. It is registered as a company not for profit and provides financial assistance to the Divyangjan/Persons with Disabilities (Divyangjan/PwDs) for their economic rehabilitation and provides a number of skill development programs to empower them to grow & sustain their enterprises.
- The Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities has merged the following six scholarship schemes into an umbrella scholarship scheme titled "Scholarships for Students with Disabilities"e.f. 15th April 2018:
- Pre-matric Scholarship for Students with Disabilities
- Post-matric Scholarship for Students with Disabilities
- Top Class Education for Students with Disabilities
- National Overseas Scholarship for Students with Disabilities
- National Fellowship for Persons with Disabilities
- Free Coaching for Students with Disabilities
- "Unique ID for Persons with Disabilities” project aims at building a holistic end-to-end integrated system for Issuance of Universal ID & Disability Certificates for Persons with Disabilities with their identification and disability details.
Benefits of UDID
- Persons with disabilities will not need to make multiple copies of documents, maintain, and carry multiple documents as the card will capture all the necessary details which can be decoded with the help of a reader
- The UDID card will be the single document of identification, and verification of the disabled for availing various benefits in future
- The UDID Card will also help in streamlining the tracking of the physical and financial progress of beneficiaries at all levels of the hierarchy of implementation – from village level, block level, District level, State level and National level.
- With the goal to ensure that people with disabilities can lead independent lives the following could be certain key areas that could be evaluated to ensure an inclusive environment in line with the Right to People with Disabilities Bill.
- Apart from these targeted areas the government needs to incentivize innovation, production and sale of assistive devices by providing incentives, tax benefits as well as outreach mechanisms for wide adoption.
- The National Building Code 2016 and the Harmonised Guidelines for Barrier-Free Buildings released in February 2016 needs to be followed for all new buildings in the country.
- The Ministry needs to be empowered to ensure that all future public spaces (schools, Government offices, parks etc) while getting clearness need to also adhere to these accessible guidelines / inclusive guidelines as they do for environment, fire etc.
- All educational institutions/teacher and faculty training programs need to ensure that Inclusive education and the ability to manage inclusive classrooms are built into their training programs.
- Further given the fact that technology today is becoming a great tool for new pedagogical approaches in education; its ability to also provide great learning experiences for students with different abilities can also not be undermined.
- Thus, teachers and schools should not only be sensitized but also trained on using the latest inclusive technology to help create better learning experiences for all students.
- The Government to citizen interface is one of the largest in any country. The plethora of government services that need to be delivered to all citizens is enormous. More and more of these services are now being delivered online and digitally.
- It thus becomes critical that all websites and customer interfaces follow the principles of universal / inclusive design.
- Thus, the functionality of these interfaces needs to follow the standards set out by WCAG 2.0 and or adopting the functionalities mentioned in the European Guidelines EN 301-59.
- The Government is also one of the largest employers in any state. Technology today provides opportunities in creating inclusive work environments for all.
- Thus, the government should mandate that all RFPs need to mandatorily require that all ICT products and services meet the functionalities of the EN 301-59 guidelines, which are the most progressive Accessible standards in the world for ICT.
Creation of Centres of Excellence
- Access to opportunities and jobs for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) is still dismal and the population as mentioned earlier is particularly at risk of being trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty as they may not be able to access relevant training and skilling for meaningful employment.
- Basic IT skills combined with employer-specific skills could enable these young people not only to gain skills but almost surely employment.
- The IT/ITES Industry recruits and trains a large number of candidates from campus and off-campus locations each year. Unfortunately, disabled candidates do not form a part of such campus placements as more often than not they do not have access to such elite colleges from where campus recruitment happens on a regular basis.
- The government could set up a well-equipped and accessible Centre of Excellence across states to enable young adults with disabilities in employable age to have access to high-quality job-related training leading to good placement opportunities in the IT/ITES sector. These could be set up as partnerships between states, civil society, educational institutions, and the private sector.
- In conclusion, the passage of the Rights to Disability Bill is a good step forward by the Government of India.
- However, much needs to be done beyond the same to ensure that we, as a nation, build an environment that is more inclusive, just, and equitable. This is not a good to-do activity for us, but a must-do activity.
Q. India still lags behind in a big way when it comes to removing infrastructural, institutional, and attitudinal barriers for persons with disabilities. Much needs to be done beyond the same to ensure that we, as a nation, build an environment that is more inclusive, just, and equitable. Do you agree?